Verónica LFF film review: coming-of-age chiller

Paco Plaza’s Verónica conjures the spirit of a 1991 possession case

Not to be confused with Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s Mexican film of the same name, Verónica is, like its director Paco Plaza’s previous [REC] and [REC] 2, set mostly in a Spanish metropolitan apartment building where something diabolical finds a way in. There, 15-year-old Verónica (Sandra Escacena, in an impressive big-screen debut) is left to look after her three younger siblings (Bruna González, Claudia Placer, Iván Chavero, all excellent) in the absence of their dead father and overworked mother. Hoping to contact dad, Verónica experiments with a Ouija board during a solar eclipse at roughly the same time that she gets her first period, and then finds herself in conflict with the demonic presence that she has conjured.

Said to be based on a 1991 incident uniquely classified by Madrid police as supernatural, the generic if well-crafted Verónica opens near its end, with a frantic call to emergency services from the teenager, and so comes front-loaded with a doom-laden narrative trajectory. From there it winds back to Verónica’s Ouija séance three days earlier, and invites us to experience Verónica’s desperate attempts to protect her family at a time when unresolved grief about her father, a Catholic upbringing and the rush of adolescence converge to make her life hell. Plaza evokes the intrusive spirit through Nosferatu-like shadows on the wall, Verónica’s terrifying nightmares, mirror play, half-seen figures that emerge from the darkness (or the mattress) – and some uncanny in-camera effects that mess with perspective and chronology.

The film ultimately favours the paranormal – yet Plaza still slyly insinuates an alternative explanation, rooted in the protagonist’s psychosexual unravelling. This reading is subtly aided by the casting of Ana Torrent as the children’s mother, given that Torrent’s breakout rôle, in Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive (1973), was precisely as an impressionable girl coming of age in a confusion of fantasy and reality.